Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
It is perhaps not surprising in this Schubert anniversary year that one of his great song cycles, "Die schoene Muellerin" should be sung on two successive nights in Washington. On Sunday, the American Tenor Grayson Hirst, with pianist Zaidee Parkinson, performed the cycle at the National Gallery. Monday night it was played and sung in the Kennedy Center by Andre Watts and the Dutch Baritone, Bernard Kruysen.
It does not matter in the slightest today tha Wilhelm Muller's poems are often absurd. The world is grateful, though Schubert's world was not, that the words inspired him to write some of the most beautiful songs ever conceived.
Sunday's program carried this note "At the request of the artists, the audience is asked to refrain from applause between the individual songs." If only the same note had been found in Monday's program! Instead, an uninformed audience persisted, until nearly the end of the cycle, in clapping after each brief song, thus destroying the mood the artists were working to create.
The inner meanings of the songs were deeply penetrated and projected by Hirst on Sunday. While there were details that could easily be improved - the imitation of the miller's daughter was somewhat overdone - Hirst caught the rapture. And in handsome voice, expressively shaded, he created first the singer's passion, then his despair as the girl ditched him for a passing hunter. Alas, Parkinson's piano sounded brittle, with far too little legato; and often it was wildly overaccented, especially in the first half of the cycle.
In the Kennedy Center the situation was almost completely reversed. Watts, in the great tradition of Artur Schnabel, Edwin Fischer and Walter Gieseking, three of the world's most famous pianists who loved to play Schubert songs, played simply gloriously. Pharsing, touch, dynamics, accents, a rhythmic pulse and a wide range of colors made the songs glow in the piano. With skillful pedaling, and equisite sonorites, he constantly shaped and shaded as only masters can. Today he is probably rivaled in this music by only two pianists: Gerald Moore, now semi-retired, and Dalton Baldwin.
But Kruysen is a singer whose faults made it possible for him to realize much of the actual music of the songs, to say nothing of their deepest content.
Often his singing was flat in pitch, and frequently, as in "Ungeduld" and "Meinl" he was singing in so high a key that his voice was strained while many notes were inaudible. His voice is slender, to be sure, but more than adequate. He prefaced the cycle, unnecessarily (and as it turned out, unwisely) with four more songs, including one of the most unfortunate performances of "Der Erlkoening" in memory.